Choosing and Installing Tile for the Garden Apartment!

This post is in collaboration with Lowe’s

Our tenants moved out of the garden apartment around late April, and immediately, we dove in, gathering quotes and meeting with contractors. We needed to come up with a (somewhat loose) schedule in order to plan for what we hoped to be a 2-3 month renovation, and we quickly locked in our favorite general contractor and new-to-us tile installers. While the first month of the renovation would be handled by professionals, our plan was/is to swoop in and finish up by building out the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom – and maybe we would treat ourselves by hiring out the fresh paint job (here’s hoping!).

Not even one day after we filmed the garden tour, tile installation began! It was exciting and scary, and we overthought every detail leading up to it (who, us?). We considered everything from luxury vinyl planks, wood look tile and polished concrete, and we discussed the possibility of heated flooring, too. To help with our decision, we spoke directly to the source – our former tenants! We asked them if they ever felt that the original tile was too cold, and they let us know that, hand to heart, it never bothered them; it was nice and cool in the summer, and they were always in stocking feet through the winter anyway. We took their response to heart, which allowed us to (somewhat hesitantly) nix the heating element. Between the cost of the heated sheets alone and the electrician to install thermostats in multiple places, this would save us thousands.

As a result, we considered luxury vinyl planks (LVP), if only because the flooring stays closer to room temperature, and it would make for a less expensive install than tile. We gave LVP a hard look. Vinyl has come such a long way, and there are a lot of options out there that had us fooled into thinking they were actual hardwood! (House of Hipsters was a big inspiration here!) If this was our own personal space, I think we might’ve landed on LVP. It has a reputation of holding up well to everyday traffic and pets, but in the end, we cringed at the thought of future tenants pushing their 200-lb couch across the floor, leaving behind permanent dull scratches (or worse). Asking anyone who signs a lease to use felt feet on their dining room chairs didn’t seem very sane either! When it comes to rental units, we have to assume the worst and hope for the best.

Polished concrete was eliminated almost immediately. Not only did we have the most difficult time hunting down residential contractors to take on the job (let alone provide us with a quote), but we also craved something with more warmth – and so, wood look tile won out in the end! Sample tile collecting ensued.

We searched high and low for the perfect shade; not too yellow, not too red, and nothing too dark or too light. We were looking for the Goldilocks of flooring, something affordable but not cheap, made from durable porcelain (not ceramic). After our flooring contractor’s initial walk through, he added one more stipulation: No tile longer than 30″. This was recommended based upon the amount of leveling that our floors needed, and the shorter the length, the less change of future cracks.

At first, our search was restricted to specialty flooring shops – Lumber Liquidators, Floor & Decor and local tile outlets – and then we had our aha! moment! Do you remember the flooring we had installed for Akiyo’s family during last year’s Lowe’s Spring Makeover? It fit all our criteria – 6″ x 24″ in a soft wood tone and an inoffensive traditional style, and it was less than $2/sq. ft.! I texted with Akiyo and asked her if she was still loving her tile, and she couldn’t sing its praises enough. Done. We chose the same brand and style, but in a slightly different colorway. The winner? Style Selections Serso Wheat wood look tile from Lowe’s:

Lowe’s has been such a strong support system for our wild renovation ideas over the years, and they were just as excited to work with us on this project. We ordered 950 sq. ft. of tile for our 850 sq. ft. space, and we chose this Summer Wheat sanded grout for the most natural look. We felt confident in our decision based on Akiyo’s family room makeover, and when everything arrived (we used Lowe’s home delivery service), we were practically bursting. We called up our tile installer (these guys), and they were at our home a few weeks later to kick off the demolition of the existing, mis-matched 12″ x 12″ ivory tile:

In total, the tile installation took seven days, with the shortest work being the demolition! By the end of day one, everything was torn up and hauled away, with only a few stubborn areas left in the kitchen:

The next two days were spent leveling and leveling and leveling. Until our former tenants moved out, we had almost forgotten how bad the floors were. During our final walk through, I remember walking out of the bedroom and into the living room, and I felt like I had walked up an incline! The whole apartment sort of sunk in the middle (not surprising, since our floors are similar), but the tile team worked miracles. Along the wall where the bedrooms meet the living room (parts of the kitchen, too) received the most amount of leveling compound, but by the time they were done, we couldn’t believe how even the floors were.

Finally, it was time to tile! We asked for the smallest grout lines possible, and they were able to go just slightly under 1/8″. I initially thought this meant we could have gotten away with unsanded grout, but they let me know that they preferred sanded grout for durability on the floor.

By the end of week one, the tiling and majority of the grouting was complete. The final two days were spent finishing the grout, cleaning up supplies and wiping off the grout haze. The bathroom is only partially finished, because our general contractor still needs to swap some plumbing, and afterwards, the tile team will come back and quickly finish up that last room!

We can’t get over how much the flooring warms up the space. That was our goal all along, but it really is the foundation for everything that comes after! Hover over photo below for direct links to product:

Let’s zoom in on the perimeter of the room. The baseboards stayed mostly in tact, although the extensive leveling made some of the boards look too low. We’ve already ripped those out to replace with new, but for everything else, we’ll need to install quarter round to cover up the small gaps. To be honest, we were impressed with how close they were able to get to the edge of the room, and in some cases, right up under the existing baseboards! Here’s a good snippet of how it looks right now:

This has already made a world of difference, but the best part is that things are only getting started down there! So much of what you’re seeing in these photos is changing – and soon! Think: Recessed LED lighting, all new doors, fresh paint on every last surface, and oh yeah, a brand new kitchen, laundry room and bathroom.

We can’t wait to share the progress with you as it unfolds!

We used Style Selections Serso Wheat wood look tile and Summer Wheat sanded grout. A huge thank you to Lowe’s for partnering with us on this project, and the same to you for supporting the brands that support us! 

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  • TIFFANY DIIORIO - May 26, 2017 - 7:04 AM

    you say “garden” so I am assuming basement ie slab. and I think the apt is in Chi?
    Are you concerned with physical warmth in the winter? did you consider under floor heating? thermosoft, nuheat, etc…
    I would love to hear your thoughts on this as I am starting a project similar to yours.

    love the tile by the way!

    thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 26, 2017 - 10:00 AM

      You’re right – we’re in Chicago on a slab. We did consider heating! We dove into all that in the first few paragraphs, but after speaking with the former tenants that lived with tile for the last 3.5 years, they weren’t fazed by the tile in the winter whatsoever. Instead, they said they actually appreciated how cool the floors stayed in the summer!ReplyCancel

  • Chantel - May 26, 2017 - 7:21 AM

    Looks beautiful!! question- will tile floors in the basement make the floors super cold in the winter??ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 26, 2017 - 10:02 AM

      It will definitely be cool, but we spoke with our former tenants, and it didn’t bother them one bit (they were always wearing slippers or had on socks in the winter anyway). Rather, they appreciated how cool it kept the apartment in the summer. We dive into that quite a bit more in those first few paragraphs! :)ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - May 26, 2017 - 8:53 AM

    Wow! That is some good-looking tile!! I can’t wait to see what comes next :)ReplyCancel

  • Ann - May 26, 2017 - 9:42 AM

    I cannot believe we didn’t make it down there last weekend!!!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 26, 2017 - 10:03 AM

      How did we forget?! I think someone was too excited to watch The Big Chill. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Sammy - May 26, 2017 - 10:53 AM

    so so excited to see the progress on this! that floor is amazing!!

    in the next renovation (ha!), I said I wanted the wood look tile flooring. I hope there’s a pocket door somewhere down there :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 26, 2017 - 10:57 AM

      So funny, how’d you know?! There will be one pocket door – details to come!ReplyCancel

  • Kyla @HouseOfHipsters - May 26, 2017 - 11:42 AM

    This looks absolutely amazing! I’m singing Outkast, So Fresh and So Clean =) You chose the perfect color. And thanks for the shoutout!!!ReplyCancel

  • Monica - May 26, 2017 - 5:10 PM

    Hi this looks so lovely! I was wondering if you had any issues with sound traveling or if you did anything to minimize the upstairs noises. We have a daylight basement that we rent out and it’s just perfect except the sound issue…ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 26, 2017 - 6:23 PM

      Maybe we’re so used to apartment living in the city, but some noise is 100% to be expected. I can hear the dogs running around upstairs when we’re in the living room, and I’m sure the same could be said for living in our garden apartment. We do try to be as mindful as possible, though.ReplyCancel

  • Bobbie - May 26, 2017 - 7:32 PM

    The floors look great. Have you considered sanded caulk for the edges? I despise quarter round and either pull the baseboards and reinstall or use sanded caulk. So much cleaner IMO. Anyway still a great transformation, quarter round or no.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 26, 2017 - 8:44 PM

      We’d love to do that, but every so often, there’s a good 1/4″ gap. While we don’t prefer the look of quarter round, in this old house, it has hidden so many sins! Ultimately, it will create a nice finished edge for some of those larger gaps. Thank you for the suggestion!ReplyCancel

      • Laurel - May 30, 2017 - 1:31 PM

        I’m relatively new to DIY, and wondering if there is a reason you wouldn’t want to remove trim before tiling to get closer to the wall and avoid using quarter round? We have a kitchen reno coming up in the next couple years, and I had assumed we’d do that, but not if it isn’t the best move!ReplyCancel

        • Kim - May 31, 2017 - 8:43 AM

          Hi Laurel! More or less, it was a cost saving measure. Installing all new baseboards would have easily been an additional $1k (even choosing the least expensive option), and a LOT more work. Do I wish we just ripped it all up and installed new? Yes and no. Yes, because you’re right – we would have avoided quarter round. No, because we still have SO much work ahead of us, and that detail didn’t feel worth the effort. We’re doing our best to splurge and save where we can!ReplyCancel

          • Kim - May 31, 2017 - 8:44 AM

            I should update to add – if it was just ONE space, absolutely we would have removed and reinstalled the baseboards! For your kitchen, assuming it’s not 850 sq. ft. ;), I’d choose to remove and reinstall.

          • Laurel - May 31, 2017 - 9:37 PM

            Ha! I wish our kitchen was 850 sf! But alas, far from it… but that will mean it will be much more affordable to pull out the trim! Perhaps we can re-install the same trim? That would be a nice cost savings. Thanks!

          • Kim - June 1, 2017 - 8:55 AM

            If you remove the trim carefully, it’s possible! It’s worth a shot. Good luck!

  • Kaylan - May 26, 2017 - 9:59 PM

    Me thinks your tenants lie ;) we’ve live in a basement/garden suite with tile floors and it is downright cold in the winter. However, it’s nothing a nice area rug and good slippers can’t solve. I do appreciate the cool floor in the summer and I love that I don’t have to worry about damaging the flooring. I would make the same choice you did. It looks lovely!ReplyCancel

  • Ashley - May 28, 2017 - 8:28 AM

    Your new tile looks so nice! I would have never thought about how hard tenants could be on LVT- that was smart of you. We have laminate wood floors and love them! I’m so excited to see what you do next here!ReplyCancel

  • Dwyn - May 28, 2017 - 7:51 PM

    I’m currently looking into wood-look tiles for my ground floor. I don’t quite understand the distinction you make between porcelain and ceramic tiles??? Can you explain, or point to an article that does?

    I have big dogs (think 160-180 lbs) and the good old shuffle-feet routine have can wreck havoc on floors.

    Personally I think the flooring look great and as far as temperature… Cold in the winter I can live with, good slippers and socks, dog beds, a rug or two, it’s taken care of. Cool in the summer is heaven to feet and to overheated dogs alike!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 30, 2017 - 9:19 AM

      In a nutshell, porcelain is going to be much more durable than ceramic (and this usually comes with a slighter higher price point, too)! You can learn more about that here: http://www.floorfacts.com/ceramic-porcelain-tile.aspReplyCancel

      • Dwyn - June 15, 2017 - 5:47 PM

        Thanks Kim! I’m going to look at it with a more critical eye now. Paramount for me is something that will last, I don’t want to be re-doing the fundamentals like flooring again in 10 years’ time!ReplyCancel

  • Meg - May 30, 2017 - 8:43 PM

    Can you talk a little about why you chose 6 x 24 tiles over 6 x 36? We are in the process of narrowing down our tile choices and have been leaning towards longer tiles in an effort to reduce how busy tiles look in comparison to actual wood. Is there an advantage to shorter tiles?

    Basement is really looking good!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 31, 2017 - 8:40 AM

      Hi Meg! I explained a little bit in the post, but basically, our contractor told us to choose tiles no longer than 30.” This is because our floors were REALLY unlevel, and although they did a miracle job leveling the subfloor as much as possible, the shorter the tile, the less chance for the tiles to crack, as opposed to a longer length. We also would have preferred the look of a longer tile, but now that it’s installed, we’re so happy with our choice!ReplyCancel

  • Mandolin - May 31, 2017 - 4:56 PM

    The wood tile looks amazing. I love the grout color you guys chose. It definitely doesn’t scream “TILE!” when you first see it because the grout blends in well.

    I also just wanted to add that I mostly rent places with wood floors (because I hate carpet due to my asthma and allergies). Almost every single place I have rented has a clause in the lease with stipulations about having felt pads on furniture and/or rugs covering 75% of the flooring. Usually the landlords will includes packs of the felt pads for us to use so it has never felt like an imposition. I just slap them on the legs as we move furniture in. I assume any decent tenant would understand why you would want that and I don’t think it would make you guys come across as super strict or anything!
    Good luck on the rest of your renovation!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - June 1, 2017 - 8:56 AM

      We’ve never heard of that, but we can’t thank you enough for the suggestion! We might have to try that. ‘Welcome home, here’s some felt pads!’ :DReplyCancel

  • Christina - June 5, 2017 - 8:51 AM

    I LOVE the tile you chose *insert heart-eyes emoji here*! Just one question – why did you opt to keep the baseboards IN when they started tiling? Wouldn’t you want to get as close to the wall as possible (and also to avoid the quarter-round)? Love to know your thoughts!! :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - June 5, 2017 - 11:46 AM

      It was completely a cost saving measure. To have to re-do the basements throughout 850+ sq. ft. of space would have been at least $1k, so although IDEALLY we could have done it, we’re happy that we could salvage what we could and save a little bit of money here!ReplyCancel

  • Gretchen - June 16, 2017 - 1:36 PM

    This looks wonderful! Cool tile in the summer is going to be such a great thing under foot for your future renters.

    I am wondering how much variation there is in the wood pattern on the tiles/how frequently it repeats?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - June 16, 2017 - 1:46 PM

      That’s a good question, and one that we considered when choosing all of our options. I’m happy to report that there’s a WIDE variation, that it’s difficult to even find the repeats! I’d have to really search for them to find them. That’s not always the case (especially with cheaper ceramic tile), so it’s great to keep that in mind when shopping around.ReplyCancel

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